Suppose you’re part of a commercial property management team. You’ve got a solid definition of the tenant experience you’d like your occupants to have (Part I of this series). Not only that, but you’ve also got a clear understanding of your team’s unique position and role in providing that experience (Part II). what? How do you go about making improvements until your customers have something that is truly excellent? 

One suggestion: Try thinking about it the way a software company might think about the user experience of their product. 

In the software world, we try to be “agile” — that is, we like to build a small feature that gives users a better experience quickly, then let those users try it out. Their feedback helps us understand what to do next. Did they use the feature as much as we thought they would? What did they like (or not like) about it? What else do they wish they could do with our software? It’s like a continuous cycle of small experiments. 

The answers to these questions help us adapt to what users really need. They also help us avoid the trap of investing a huge amount of time working on something, only to have users go: “Meh.” The goal is that things keep getting better bit by bit so that, after a little while, we’ve delivered a really great user experience. 

Property management teams can apply this same idea to their efforts to improve the tenant experience at their buildings. Taking a page out of the tech playbook can help management teams wrap their heads around operating buildings more experientially by acting more experimentally. 

1. Develop a hypothesis 

A good agile process, like any good experiment, begins with a good hypothesis. If you’re part of a property management team, you’ve probably already got a bunch in your head! For example: 

  • If it’s easier for tenants to create their own requests for services or reservations, we’ll get fewer phone calls and emails into the management office. 
  • If we communicate about the next tenant social through more channels (say, through our newsletter, our messaging platform, and the digital signs in the elevators), we’ll get more people to attend than we did last time. 

The important thing to keep in mind here is that the more your hypothesis is tied to what is unique about your building, the more valuable it will be to prove (or disprove) it. So, think carefully and holistically about your hypothesis. Think about the best aspects of your building, its neighborhood, and its community of tenants. What do you believe makes it a great place to work? What do you think you could do to make it just a little bit better? Build your hypotheses on that.  

2. Make it easy 

The next step is to make it as easy as possible for building occupants to interact with what you’re trying. This can be the hardest part because it can feel like it takes a lot of effort. Creativity is crucial when it comes to enabling a low-friction way for your occupants to engage. 

What does this look like? Well, maybe it means starting something with one or two tenants rather than a whole building. If they like it, others probably will too! Maybe it means buying a $100 burner phone to try out a manual-for-now text messaging communication channel for occupants. If you get an overwhelming response, great! Then it will be time to invest more in an automated system. The point is to prove or disprove the concept as quickly as possible by making it easy for the occupants to vote with their feet (or thumbs or eyeballs, whatever the case may be). 

3. Define success first 

What good is an experiment if you can’t measure the results? This step is often overlooked, in part because it takes a lot of thought to come up with a quantitative metric, set a goal, and strive to reach it. But it’s the only way to know whether or not your hypothesis was correct. 

For example, if you think part of your unique offering for tenants is a monthly breakfast, your goal could be to increase attendance by 10%. If you achieve that increase, great! If you don’t, though, that’s not necessarily a failure—it just means something was wrong, whether it was an incorrect assumption or an ineffective approach to execution. Either way, you’ve learned something valuable and you can adjust your plans. Measurement is vital if you want to know your efforts are being focused in the right direction 

4. Invest wisely 

The last step is to invest in the tenant experience in a committed way—but to do so wisely, based on metrics. Too many buildings are simply throwing money at tenant experience without really knowing why it will make a difference. The arms race is on, whether it’s spending thousands on shiny new technology or millions on lobby renovations or amenity spaces. But what if these buildings would be better off spending a fraction of that each year to hire a dedicated event manager? And what if they had a good idea this would work because they had tested it out for 60 days first? 

To invest wisely, you need data. Without it, you’re either following the crowd or just guessing. And what better way to get good data than by conducting “agile” experiments? Thinking critically and basing decisions on data before making big investments is key to providing the best, and most thoughtful, tenant experience. 

A lot of people in commercial real estate pay lip service to the idea of giving occupants the experience they want. But it takes a little extra work to know what will work at a given property. That work will be worth it if it means spending money on the right things, not dumping it into something trendy just…because. 

Final Thoughts

One last thing to keep in mind is that this agile approach will probably show you that you aren’t providing the best possible experience to your tenantsyet. Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to do everything at once. It’s better to do something small that’s a tangible improvement than to fret about not making a big enough transformation immediately. With patience, you’ll get there. So, take a deep breath, and dive into experiential operations.